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The workplace dangers facing cleaning and janitorial workers

On almost any given day, hundreds of cleaning crews are hard at work in office buildings, medical facilities, restaurants and other establishments across the Chicago metropolitan area. While we tend to think of this type of work as being difficult yet relatively safe from work injuries, this is actually far from the case.

To illustrate, those who work in the cleaning and janitorial sector are subjected to a host of dangers on a daily basis, including exposure to high risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries, meaning those types of injuries involving the neck, back, wrist, elbow or shoulder.

Some of these risk factors include a constant regimen of bending and lifting, maintaining of awkward positions, walking on slippery surfaces, standing on stools and ladders, and, of course, using cumbersome cleaning equipment.

If you're still not convinced, consider some of the following statistics on the cleaning and janitorial sector:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimated that there were 2.5 million people working in this area back in 2010, found that the cleaning and janitorial sector was one of five industries that together accounted for a shocking 20 percent of all work injuries in the U.S.
  • A Washington State University study determined that the injury rate among cleaning and janitorial workers was 10.4 claims per 100 workers; by comparison, they found that the entire service industry had an injury rate that was roughly half this number.

Fortunately, work safety experts have devised some basic steps that employers can take to cut down on the rate of musculoskeletal injuries in the cleaning and janitorial sector.

While a complete examination of these steps is beyond the scope of a single blog post, here's a brief look at what they recommend concerning mopping, one of the more common duties in this sector.

While mopping may seem harmless enough, these experts point out that workers must often use buckets that can weigh almost 40 pounds when filled with water, and which typically require the worker to bend, squat or lift awkwardly when trying to fill and empty it.

In addition, the act of mopping itself can cause unnecessary muscle strain as the worker must lift, carry and wring out the saturated mop head, and, depending on the length of the mop pole, bend over uncomfortably when doing the actual cleaning.

Here, safety experts indicate that employers must consider supplying workers with mops equipped with lighter microfiber heads that require no wringing out and telescopic poles that minimize bending over. Furthermore, they advise supplying bottom-draining buckets, and a drain area outfitted with both hoses and a floor drain.

Those who suffer debilitating musculoskeletal injuries on the job should strongly consider speaking with an experienced attorney about their rights and their options concerning workers' compensation.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "Toward safer cleaning operations," Robert Kravitz, Nov. 1, 2013

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